Backlash against scrapped isolation rules

The AMA and a leading epidemiologist have slammed a national cabinet decision to axe mandatory COVID isolation, saying governments have thrown vulnerable South Australians “under a bus”.

Sep 30, 2022, updated Sep 30, 2022
Photo: AAP/Kelly Barnes

Photo: AAP/Kelly Barnes

Mandatory isolation periods for COVID-19 have been dropped following a decision by national cabinet, with the move to take effect within a fortnight for people except those in heath and aged care.

Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, said he was ‘flabbergasted’ by the move.

“It’s a political decision, it’s got nothing to do with health advice, they’re doing it because it’s popular,” Esterman said.

“It’s madness, they did the same thing in the UK a few months ago and now the National Health Service is in absolute strife.”

The decision to eliminate the mandatory isolation period will coincide with the end of pandemic leave payments for affected workers, with the payments ending October 14.

“The editors of the British Medical Journal have said the National Health Service is not living with Covid-19, it’s dying from it, and what do we do… we go the same way. It’s simply crazy,” Esterman said.

“At this stage, we simply don’t know what’s going to happen next. We might get another totally new variant coming along in a week’s time that’s twice as deadly as Omicron.

“We simply don’t know, so why don’t we just be a little bit cautious”

Australian Medical Association SA head Michelle Atchison said axing isolation was the wrong move.

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“I’ve had at least three messages from patients in the past couple of hours who are really very anxious and frightened about taking off the isolation period,” Atchison said.

“I know that Anthony Albanese said this is a good decision for mental health… well, it isn’t a good decision for mental health, there are a lot of vulnerable people out there who are terrified about this.”

Atchison said many Australians were already concerned about catching COVID-19 for the first or second time.

“They know that their health is vulnerable and now the government’s throwing them under the bus,” she said.

“The modelling would say we’re in for another wave to come in about November when our vaccination immunity is starting to wane and things will come from the northern hemisphere.

“People need some advice about when are they not infective and my advice would be to do a rapid test, it’s coming up positive you’re still infectious, stay home.

“If you do have to go out, anywhere that is busy and crowded would be a very bad idea: you should wear a well-fitting mask, not just a mask, an N 95 mask – messaging and some guidance around that is really sorely needed.”

Atchison said that while the majority of people can manage their health and act responsibly, some will suffer from the lack of support now given by governments

“There’s a proportion of our population that we’re still really vulnerable, be that vulnerable to getting unwell or really vulnerable economically, that they’ll feel a pressure to go back to work sooner than they should.”

“I think that it would be very hard for the government with the weight of public opinion to put those [mandatory isolation] measures back on.”

“We’re at a terrible point in our, in the pandemic, where we’re seeing that health decisions are being made for political and business reasons, not for health.”

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